George Orwell Goes into the Broadcasting Biz

Francis Vale

Double speak has become an American art form, second only to the long-gone but still cold warrior-loved Soviet Union, and which, at the rate we are going, we should soon surpass in verbiage nonsense.   Just as the soon to be trillion dollar federal deficit is actually an "economic stimulus", HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) is being touted as the greatest thing since hanging chads for the Republicans because HDMI supports standard, enhanced, or high-definition video, plus standard to multi-channel surround-sound audio, all on the same wire. HDMI will soon be appearing in almost every type of A/V consumer electronics device you care to imagine, including DVD players, HDTV sets, set top boxes and many other A/V goodies in your home entertainment playpen.

Basically, HDMI is a two-part spec. The good news is the first part of the spec incorporates DVI, a specification created by the Digital Display Working Group (DDWG) to accommodate analog and digital monitors with a single connector. There are three different DVI configurations: DVI-A for analog signals, DVI-D for digital signals, and DVI-I (integrated) for both analog and digital signals. Via a DVI connector a digital signal sent to an analog monitor is converted into an analog signal. But if the monitor is a digital monitor, such as a flat panel display, then no conversion is necessary. DVI ports are sprouting up everywhere, including on monitors, 3-D graphics cards, and on large screen projectors.   The advantages of having an all-digital signal path without any performance degrading D-A conversion are obviously all to the good.

But now comes the evil twin that also lurks in the HDMI spec, HDCP, or High Bandwidth Digital Content Protection, which is an Intel specification used to protect digital content transmitted and received by DVI-compliant displays. Oops. It's like buying a Ferrari and belatedly discovering there is a MPH-limiter that stops all the fun at 55 per. With the RIAA now personally suing even dear old granny for downloading Guy Lombardo MP3 files, you can expect no limit to the kinds of "added-value" nasty copy protection schemes content providers will be laying on HDMI-enabled devices. And because all the consumer electronics heavyweights have signed onto enforcing HDMI (HDMI development is overseen by the HDMI Working Group, which includes Sony, Hitachi, Panasonic, Silicon Image, Philips, and Toshiba and others as members) there will be no escaping it when you plunk down your several grand for a spiffy new HDTV set or buy a DVD player. The first HDMI products made their debut in September 2003 at the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association (CEDIA) Expo.

And now comes the fun part. Suppose you already own a DVD player or DTV set, every one of which pre-CEDIA '03 does not have HDMI and the nasty HDCP lurking inside. Now let's further suppose your cable or Sat TV company simply decides it wants to restrict your right to view the 2004 Super Bowl to only one real-time viewing by its putting out a scrambled HDTV signal that only an HDMI-equipped device can decode.   Uhh, say hello to the black screen of HDMI death. But it gets even nastier. Suppose you want to time shift the Super Bowl onto a TiVo-like device or record it on a DVD recorder, but the TV network arbitrarily nixed the whole idea because they broadcast a recording blocking flag over the HDMI interface that tells your PVR or DVD-R, sorry, pal, no deal. No more time shifted recording, no more archiving your favorite sporting events or TV shows, just say good-bye and all that.

If you want to dismiss all this as paranoid ranting, then digest this little known factoid. Did you know the RIAA sued the Girl Scouts of America"hand won"hto prevent little Mary and friends from singing copyrighted songs around the campfire? If the content providers are prepared to drag a 72 year old granny on crutches into court and line her up against the copyright wall with a bunch of 8 year old little girls in braces and legally shoot them all, then what do you think these same content providers are going to do to you when they are given absolute and total control over your entire home entertainment system?

So say welcome to the future. Too bad it ain't what it used to be, Mr. Jetson. Now then George, where are you hiding your little girl? She's a wanted fugitive.

January 2004

Copyright 2004 Francis Vale, All Rights Reserved

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